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Tuesday, July 15, 2003
The other day Emily Jones had a post about some dimwit political science professor at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. Said dimwit apparently (reports are contradictory) told his students:
One kid actually sent such an email, which brought down the wrath of The Man upon Mr. Ballou's head.
Niles and I discussed this. Niles is a cynical pollyanna, so he thought that the point was to demonstrate why it is more people don't become politicians---because they might get nasty emails.
I had a different idea, which turned out to be correct. Joanne Jacobs points to this story in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, in which all is made clear.
Yes. Just by the simple act of making a death threat to the President you too could become a target of the fascist Police State. Dissent is crushed!
Now, there are contradictory opinions whether the students were actually meant to send an email. Only one student sent one; some thought they were never meant to. However:
As PJ/Maryland says in Joanne's comments (comment #6):
This sounds like what he meant to me, too. Perhaps his point was that by just having the words "kill the president" on your hard drive, you should feel fear. The NSA robo-sniffers, which sift through all the world's hard drives, will find it---after they've automagically discarded all the "spoiler" text ("atomic bomb explode bin laden chinese anthrax haarp black helicopter area 51") placed on countless Usenet posts and email messages by crafty conspiracy aficianados---and come for you in the middle of the night and you'll never be heard from again. FEEL THE FEAR!
(Just think, if you have read about this story anywhere on-line, you now have the words "kill the president" on your hard drive! Do you feel the fear yet?)
Just to be very clear: I don't think that Ballou ever meant to urge his students to send death threat, let alone urge them to carry out death threats. And, unlike some people, I don't think he's an idiot for using the phrase "kill the president" as an example. Where I do think he's an idiot is that he seems to think that we all naturally fear the US government, and that somehow typing death threats onto the screen is supposed to make us realize that.
There are two depressing facets to this story. The first is that neither the professor or his students seem to be able to grasp the difference between legitimate dissent, and threats:
His students agree:
Why, it's getting so that you can't make a simple death threat to a public official without Ashcroft's goons marching jack-booted into your house! Dissent is crushed! (Actually, I'll bet that both Ballou and Joy are enjoying the delicious frisson of fear they get from knowing they are dangerous dissenters against the Establishment. The Man is coming down on the People!)
They also don't seem to grasp the difference between saying, and doing. The police didn't come investigate because the NSA X-ray vision satellite read his lips, but because other people made complaints. (In addition to the email, one student---a high school student taking this college course---told his parents, who called the police. Did the kid or the parents misunderstand (or exaggerate) what was said into a real threat? Or maybe both the emailer and the high school kid are informers paid to seek out any whisper of dissent!)
The second depressing point is that this bozo is teaching "Introduction to U.S. Government". I looked for an on-line syllabus for the class, but found nothing. I imagine it looks something like this:
Week 1: Your government: fear it
Week 2: Reasons you should fear the government
Week 3: Fear of the government throughout US history
Week 4: Lab work: feeling fear
Week 5: Analysis of the fear we felt in Week 4
Week 6: Brave anti-government tactics
Week 7: The so-called "Constitution"
Since this is a summer course, there are only seven weeks.
Michael Ballou also runs this pop-up infested Angelfire site, meant to call attention to the plight of adjunct professors.
Now, I don't want to go into it in this post, but this is a legitimate concern. Instead of hiring full-time faculty, many colleges have decided they can save money by hiring several part-timers. The part-timers are paid far below what the regular faculty get for much the same work.
However, Ballou's site badly designed, poorly written, and above all, whiny. He seems to be one of the Perpetually Aggrieved.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though. After his recent little stunt, he probably won't have to worry about being an second-class academic citizen anymore.
UPDATE: I wrote this several days ago and put off posting it because I feared (there's that word again) that perhaps I wasn't getting the whole story, and that there would turn out to be less than meets the eye here. Now, Ballou hisself has replied to Emily in the comments section of her original post! (Emily replies to the reply here.)
Huh. Turns out I needn't have worried. It's every bit as stupid as I had supposed. I like this bit especially:
Well, if a person doesn't feel fear and paranoia of the government, and you seek to bring it out, I'd say that was a pretty good definition of "instill". I still don't know why I'm supposed to fear simply by typing "kill the president" on my computer. Is it the death threat I'm supposed to worry about? Or is it political? If I typed "impeach the president", would that make me fear too? How am I supposed to feel fear if no one knows what I've typed?
The rest of his very long answer (there are ten points!) is incoherent and laden with his own intellectual and psychological baggage. Please don't take my word for it, but go over to Emily's and see for yourself.
Hmmm...I could interpret this to mean that Michael Ballou is spying on us, seeing how he showed up on Emily's site and all. Should I feel fear?